QAB Interview with Religious Scholar, Stephanie A. Mann

QAB Interview with Religious Scholar, Stephanie A. Mann


Stephanie A. Mann
Stephanie A. Mann

Stephanie A. Mann is a brilliant Roman Catholic religious scholar who holds a BA and MA in English Language and Literature from Wichita State University. She is an accomplished instructor, teaching English and History at Wichita State University and Newman University. Beyond this, Stephanie taught RCIA Ministry and Spirituality Core courses and the Spiritual Life Center in the Religious Studies Program, and various topics in the RICA program at her home parish, Blessed Sacrament. Stephanie blogs extensively about the Roman Catholic experience during the English Reformation, and her expertise is exceptionally noteworthy. Stephanie’s outstanding book, Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation is being highlighted on the website this month. If you are interested in a fresh and thought-provoking perspective, we highly recommend it. Our recent interview with Stephanie follows…

1. In Supremacy and Survival, you detail convincingly that King Henry VIII’s choice to split from a papal authority was driven by his desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon over any perceived theological reason. Many historians point to King Henry settling on the scripture of Leviticus as his rationale for annulling the marriage. Do you believe Henry’s reasons were based on his religious interpretation or was this merely a convenience he latched on to?

I am certainly not going to second guess his conscience, but I think Henry was enough of an amateur theologian that he wanted to make such an argument, basing his lack of a male heir on the interpretation that he had sinned in marrying Catherine of Aragon, Arthur’s widow, and thus was being punished. It’s interesting that he based his argument on one Old Testament passage (Leviticus 20:21), ignoring the other Old Testament passage that stated a brother should marry his brother’s widow when she had no sons (Deuteronomy 25:5—the levirate law). There was quite a debate about how those two verses should be interpreted since they seem so contradictory—and there had been from the time of the early Church: St. Augustine of Hippo even offered an interpretation. Examples from the Old Testament indicated that Deuteronomy described the exception to Leviticus—if the widow did not have a son, the brother should marry his brother’s widow. And as I pointed out in S&S, Henry presented two requests for dispensation based on the same affinity argument, wanting two very different decisions: that his marriage to Catherine should be annulled because of affinity since she’d been married to his brother and that his marriage to Anne Boleyn should be allowed in spite of affinity since he’d been in a sexual relationship with her sister Mary.

2. Stephanie, I was very interested in your thoughts regarding Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More. You project an interpretation rarely detailed, that in fact both men were reformers who advocated for abuses within the Roman Catholic Church to be addressed. Can you explain your position to members and browsers? I think they would be very interested to learn more.

As a faithful and well-informed Catholic, Thomas More knew that the Catholic Church is always in need of reform, and in his limited role as a layman, he was focused on eliminating abuses, improving education and catechesis, and modeling true devotion to Jesus and reception of the Sacraments of the Church; Bishop John Fisher, since he was a bishop, was actively involved in reform, particularly focused on better education of priests both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford, where, with Henry’s VIII’s grandmother’s help (Margaret Beaufort), he had founded colleges and divinity chairs. He served as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and was the divinity chair there too until his arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London. Fisher also served as a model bishop, one whom both Henry VII and Henry VIII admired, known for his attentiveness to his diocese, personal poverty and piety, etc. I don’t think this is really that unusual as interpretation: both More and Fisher are recognized for their involvement with the New Learning, along with Erasmus, John Colet, and others. Brendan Bradshaw and Eamon Duffy edited Humanism, Reform and the Reformation: The Career of Bishop John Fisher, published by Cambridge University Press, which outlines many of Fisher’s efforts at reform.

I was reading a book of G.K. Chesterton’s essays for a reading group: in one essay, Chesterton quotes William Ralph Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral at the time (1920’s), who commented that it was too bad the Church of England hadn’t followed upon on the “unfinished work of Sir Thomas More”! Chesterton responds: “We might meekly suggest that, if it be regrettable that the work of Sir Thomas More was “unfinished,” some portion of the blame may perhaps attach to the movement that cut off his head.” More was definitely a defender of Catholic doctrine against Luther and Tyndale (although some of the language he—and they—used against each other is very rough) but once he had left office he was devoting his time to meditation on the Holy Eucharist and in the Tower of London, until Sir Richard Rich took his books, paper, and pen away, he was writing works of devotion on the Passion of Jesus and the Agony in the Garden that are filled with Biblical references.

3. In your detailing of the English Reformation during the reign of King Henry VIII, you refer to both Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Chief Minister and Vicar General Thomas Cromwell as being Lutherans. Since neither man viewed himself as Lutheran, are you using this term in a broader sense? Or do you feel their individual belief systems are indicative of Lutheranism?

In the sense that they were espousing theological views common to Martin Luther—I think that shorthand term makes even more sense when we think of Cranmer moving toward Calvinist and Zwinglian views during the reign of Edward VI, especially regarding Holy Communion. (He held a Lutheran view of the Real Presence during Henry VIII’s reign; during Edward VI’s reign he viewed it as a symbolic presence.)

4. In Supremacy and Survival, you explain the sweeping Protestant Reformation that ravaged England during the reign of King Edward VI and its impact upon Roman Catholicism in England and Wales. Given his minority, you lay the driving force of these changes as being first Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and then John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer is not mentioned as a key agent in driving Protestantism during Edward’s reign. Was he a puppet of the Dukes’ priorities? Or was he allowed to assert his own theological will?

Since most of these changes were enforced by legislative decree and even military force (against the Prayer Book Rebellion), the two leaders of Edward VI’s minority reign were instrumental in making and enforcing the changes in worship and practice. Of course, Thomas Cranmer, compiler and composer of The Book of Common Prayer and the Forty-Two/Thirty-Nine Articles, was one of the essential leaders of this more radical, more Calvinist, reform.

5. In your accounting of the change of succession from Mary Tudor to Jane Dudley towards the reign of King Edward VI’s reign, you lay the responsibility squarely upon John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. At 15 years old, reigning monarch, highly educated, and purely Protestant, is there any possibility at all that this teenager was asserting his own authority with a cooperative agent?

It’s the same situation as above—Edward VI certainly did not want his Catholic sister to undo the work his “reign” had begun—but he did not have the legal authority to make things happen (yet) before he became so horribly ill and died, so I focus on Dudley/Northumberland. I like it that you use the name “Jane Dudley” in your question! I think it’s much more appropriate name for her than Lady Jane Grey, given her marriage.

6. The stories of Roman Catholics, both priests and recusants, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I are absolutely amazing. If you had to pick just one life story to illustrate to members and browsers the courage, persistence, creativity, and tenacity of a single priest and another of a single recusant during that era, who would you choose and why? 

This is the hardest question of all—choosing just one of each. I suppose St. Robert Southwell is the greatest example of a priest who suffered and died during Elizabeth I’s reign. I’d like to offer this link to his story on my blog. In addition to his example as a Catholic priest who died for his faith, he is a great poet. Among the recusant lay people, I think St. Margaret Clitherow has the most amazing story—crushed to death because she would not plead, to avoid her family from testifying and her neighbors from condemning her when charged with protecting Catholic priests. She is called the Pearl of York. Here’s a link to my blog with her story.

7. I was fascinated by your accounting of Mary Tudor’s and Archbishop Reginald Pole’s attempted counter-reformation. Can you share with readers and browsers why you believe they were unable to meet their goals in shifting England and Wales back to Roman Catholicism? 

I think it was a matter of time: they just did not have enough. They were successful in many of their endeavors. After I wrote S&S, Eamon Duffy published his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor in which he details Pole’s catechetical, administrative, apologetic, and reform efforts. They were working, but when both Mary and Pole died the same day, the progress really ended. Elizabeth I was able to remove all the Catholic bishops Pole had appointed: only one of them would accept the new religious settlement passed by Parliament. The Convocation of Bishops had met and affirmed Catholic doctrine and therefore, this time, they did not swear the oaths of supremacy and uniformity. They were placed under house arrest, and the Marian exiles returned to replace them.

8. In highlighting the reigns of Elizabeth and the early Stuart monarchs, you discuss at length England’s long term intrusive involvement in attempting to shape religion in Ireland. How do you view actions that took place back in the 16th and 17th centuries impacted England’s relationship and rapport with Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries?

Wow, that’s a big topic! I suppose it contributed to the division and hatred between Protestant England and Catholic Ireland. The latter felt that they were being oppressed while the former were surprised they could not achieve more success.

9. How did King Charles I’s marriage to the devout Roman Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria influence Roman Catholics living in England and Wales? Or was there no resulting influence, good or bad?

It had an influence on Catholics living at Court—they could attend Mass at her chapel (her chaplains were there as part of the marriage settlement). The presence of the Spanish and French ambassadors with their embassies in London also meant that Catholics there could attend Mass. But for Catholics outside of Court or London, it really had no great positive influence—except, perhaps, that they knew they had an ally so highly placed. During the long personal rule of Charles I, Henrietta Maria was able to protect Catholic priests when they were arrested, arranging for their exile instead of execution. The presence of Catholic priests, Charles I’s obvious love for his Catholic wife, and conversions to Catholicism at Court, on the negative side, did contribute to Parliamentary opposition to his rule.

10.  In Supremacy and Survival you make a convincing case that so long as religion was controlled by the state, religious toleration was impossible and tyranny reigned. Can you explain to members and browsers how this took shape during the Civil War and Lord Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell?

The ruling classes throughout Europe at that time believed that religious unity in a polity was essential: that’s why there were such horrible wars of religion on the Continent. However the King worshipped and believed, the people had to worship and believe: if he was Protestant, they must be Protestant; if he was Catholic, they must be Catholic. When King Charles I was defeated, arrested, tried and beheaded, Anglicans found out what it meant to be outlawed, because the Commonwealth and Protectorate abolished the episcopacy and forbade the use of The Book of Common Prayer. Christmas was abolished and days of fasting imposed. As Alister McGrath noted in his book Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution (Harper One, 2007), Cromwell and the Puritans “lost any popular sympathy through their religious rigidity” (p. 142) and he concluded that the “Puritan Commonwealth died of exhaustion, infighting, disillusionment and lack of vision.” (p. 142) Then the Restoration took the right to worship away from the Puritans with the Clarendon Acts! Catholics, of course, never had any rights to worship or practice their faith under the Commonwealth and Protectorate.

11. King James II attempted to remove penalties from both Protestant and Catholic dissenters, while also striving to create more opportunities for Roman Catholics both religiously and politically. Why was he unsuccessful?

I really think it must have been fear: the English ruling classes were afraid of Catholics. They looked back on the fires of Smithfield during Mary I’s reign, the Gunpowder Plot, the English Civil War, and they were afraid of Catholics (and of Dissenters) having too much freedom. That fear created tremendous backlash against a truly revolutionary idea: religious freedom (not just freedom of worship). I think Alister McGrath, from the same book I cited above, offers a great interpretation of the result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688—it “averted another civil war and neutralized the power of religion in English public life” (p. 145); he further notes that the Toleration Act of 1689—which did not include Catholics or Quakers—ended up creating the right not to worship at all when it gave Puritans the right to worship, as an unintended consequence.

12. I was exceptionally fascinated with the resurgency of Roman Catholicism in England and Wales in the 19th and 20th centuries. Just how much of an influence and impact was John Henry Newman towards this aim?

He was a great influence and he is also the symbol of that resurgence since he was a convert to Catholicism from the Church of England. He became a Catholic just 16 years after Catholics had been emancipated and just five years before the restoration of Catholic hierarchy in England, with new bishops, dioceses, churches, convents, monasteries, schools, etc being started and built up. As he famously said, it was a Second Springtime for the Catholic Church in England. There was still prejudice and fear of Catholics in England, and he often helped explain Catholic Church teaching. He influenced other converts, including many in the 20th century.

13. What is the Oxford Movement? Why did it result in the divisions seen within the Anglican Communion today?

The Oxford Movement or the Tractarian Movement was an attempt to remind Englishmen that their Church was more than just a part of the State; Newman, Froude, Keble, Pusey and others wanted to convince Anglicans that the bishops of the Church of England had real authority, handed down from the Apostles, not just controlled by Parliament. It began when Parliament proposed to close down Church of Ireland dioceses. The Tractarians, as they became known (because they published the “Tracts for the Times” presenting their views) thought the Church should make those decisions. In some ways, the Oxford Movement reflected on divisions that had existed in the Church of England for a long time: High Church (like the Caroline divines, Laud, Andrewes, etc); Low Church (the Puritans), and Broad Church (the eighteenth century Latitudinarians). Once Newman and many of his followers left the Oxford Movement, it developed into a liturgical movement, emphasizing more sacramental views of the Book of Common Prayer, introducing candles, incense and vestments into services (again, reviving Laudian reforms)—Anglo-Catholicism (John Shelton Reed wrote Glorious Battle: The Cultural Politics of Victorian Anglo-Catholicism, a fascinating study of the era. I am not sure if the Oxford Movement contributed to the divisions we see today or if it was a manifestation of those divisions in the Victorian era, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.


14. Is there anything else you feel is important to share with members and browsers?

Thanks for this opportunity to discuss the English Reformation. I wrote my book to help readers understand some of the revisionist history that has really changed the commonly held view of the Reformation in England—that it was inevitable and final. It’s a complex era with many changes in religious direction, especially during the Tudor dynasty. I created a fictional family to help us imagine the impact of these changes, from Henry VIII’s “catholic without the pope” changes to the Calvinist reform during Edward VI’s minority, to Mary I’s return to Catholicism, to Elizabeth I’s long-lived and stable via media settlement, with nearly all these changes imposed by the state by legislation and backed up with penal laws against those who could not change their minds so quickly about what to believe—or those would not change their minds. One of my favorite quotes from a Catholic in Elizabeth I’s reign is Lady Cecily Stonor’s reply when charged with recusancy because she would not attend Church of England services: “I was born in such a time when Holy Mass was in great reverence and was brought up in the same faith. In King Edward’s time this reverence was neglected and reproved by such as governed. In Queen Mary’s it was restored with much applause, and now in this time it pleaseth the State to question them, as now they do me, who continue in the Catholic profession. The State would have the several changes, which I have seen with mine eyes, good and laudable. Whether it can be so I refer to your Lordships’ consideration. I hold me still to that wherein I was born and bred, and find nothing taught in it but great virtue and sanctity, and so by the grace of God I will live and die in it” (Supremacy and Survival, pp.71-72). That kind of steadfastness and faith is a great example to me.

I also hope the book makes us think about the USA’s experiment with religious freedom, with no national church and a Congress that would not make laws “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion, and without any religious tests for office (Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution). I discuss my continuing research on the era and these issues (and other topics) at my blog




 Supremacy and Survival (How Catholics Endured the English Reformation)

Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.